Sunday, July 27, 2014

Rapid Reviews: Begin Again and The Purge: Anarchy

Slowly expanding its way through screens across the country this month is John Carney's Begin Again. While many moviegoers will recall the title thanks to its biggest mainstream identifier, the film acting debut of Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine, I was eager to catch the movie because of a lead pairing that features Mark Ruffalo and Keira Knightley. Both performers starred separately in my two favorite films from this year's Sundance class, Infinitely Polar Bear and Laggies, and the idea of a collaborative effort immediately sparked my interest.

There's certainly a magic surrounding Begin Again, a tale of a deadbeat alcoholic father (Ruffalo) who loses his job as a music executive and haphazardly discovers a promising young talent (Knightley) while drinking his sorrows away at the bar. How he envisions her simple acoustic song transformed to new heights by a full accompaniment of instruments is a memorable scene and one that truly captures the essence of the film. Each and every musical arrangement serves as a stepping stone from beginning to end and help keep afloat an otherwise mediocre affair.

Begin Again harbors many weak plot lines and a character arc that doesn't feel 100% authentic for Ruffalo. High on aesthetics and low on substance, there are plenty of ups and downs surrounding the movie. However, valiant performances from the collective cast, which also features Hallee Steinfeld (True Grit) and Catherine Keener (The 40 Year-Old Virgin), and a hearty amount of fantastic musical performances help elevate Begin Again above the norm.

Stars: 2 and a half stars out of 4

Grade: B-

I typically get worked up for horror releases only to be let down by what transpires on screen. It's proven to be quite difficult capturing an effective scary movie nowadays. One of the most anticipated releases in recent memory was 2013's The Purge and, more so than usual, I was extremely disappointed in the final product. Yet, one feeling I remember having was that the premise was so intriguing, I would happily give future installments a fair shake at making the idea work.

New to theatres is the franchise's second go-around, The Purge: Anarchy. Undoubtedly a mighty improvement over its predecessor, the sequel takes the clever idea surrounding a futuristic American society where all crime is legal for one 12-hour period a year and sets it free. While the origin story is set entirely in a house during the annual purge, this latest effort takes moviegoers to the beastly streets where surviving the night seems very unlikely.

Interconnecting 3 stories of civilians on this stressful evening, most of whom want nothing to do with the holiday, it's Warrior's Frank Grillo who steals the show. The fast-rising actor adds a surprisingly effective action-hero element to this crazed horror tale. While Grillo's character takes to the mean streets to seek vengeance, he has a moment of sympathy for these helpless survivors and becomes their guardian angel with a machine gun. Although I still believe the franchise needs to wander away from the overly-referenced socio-economic subplots, as well as the whole guerrilla-style group who rivals the government, The Purge: Anarchy solidifies itself as a step in the right direction for the franchise. The well-conceived premise will always leave room for expansive creativity and it appears as though writer/director James DeMonaco finally recognizes that character-driven stories are the way to go.

Stars: 2 stars out of 4

Grade: C+

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